Read – Ephesians 4:25-32
Key Verse – And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV).
Key Thought – Christians can, should, and must, ALWAYS forgive.
This morning, I’d like for us to think once more about Ephesians 4:32 – And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. And this time, I want to focus on the latter part of that verse, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Maybe even further – let’s just talk about the word, forgiveness, this morning.
Just like with kindness, it’s a big little word in the Bible that we need more of. As I thought of the word this week in my study, some questions came to my mind:
– What is forgiveness? What does it mean to forgive?
– What do we know about God and forgiveness?
– What are the limits of God’s forgiveness?
– What are the limits of our forgiveness toward others? Is it ever ok to not forgive?
Let’s dig into the Scripture and see if we can find answers to some of those questions.
What is forgiveness? What does it mean to forgive?
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words translated as “forgiveness” mean things like ‘send away,’ ‘cover,’ ‘remove,’ and ‘wipe away.’
In the New Testament, the primary Greek word translated as “forgiveness” means “to send forth, send away”. Another Greek word translated “forgiveness” means “to deal graciously with.”
According to Webster, the English word “forgive” means “to give up resentment of, to grant relief from payment of, to cease to feel resentment against.”^[Inc Merriam-Webster, [*Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.*](https://ref.ly/logosres/mwdict11?hw=Forgive&off=314&ctx=〈forgive+a+debt〉 2:+~to+cease+to+feel+res) (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).]
Notice that forgiveness, as described in these definitions, is not based on merit, or some intrinsic worth in the forgiven. I am not forgiven because I deserve forgiveness, for I clearly did not. Neither were or did you. We are forgiven FREELY, by GRACE.
Notice, also, that in all of these definitions, forgiveness is not a feeling… it is an act of the will.
So let’s think about our key verse in light of these definitions. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV).
Forgiving one another. I’m to forgive you… you’re to forgive me… we’re to forgive each other as believers. When you do me wrong, I’m to “send it away… wipe it away… cease feeling resentment because of it… grant relief from the payment of it.” And I’m to do it not because I feel like doing it… not as a feeling or an emotion, but as a sheer act of will… as an act of grace.
What do we know about God and forgiveness?
We know that He forgave the children of Israel, time and time again – But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, And did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, And did not stir up all His wrath; (Psalm 78:38 NKJV)
We know that He forgave David, even after Bathsheba and Uriah – So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (2 Samuel 12:13 NKJV) David recognized this great forgiveness and sang about it in the Psalms – I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:5 NKJV)
We know that He forgives, not for our sake, nor based on our merit, but for His own sake. It is an act of pure grace. And when He forgives, He forgets – I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 NKJV) The apostle John repeated this thought in his first epistle – I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. (1 John 2:12 NKJV)
We know that forgiveness is one of His attributes, one of His characteristics – For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. (Psalm 86:5 NKJV)
In the New Testament, Jesus, who was God made flesh, demonstrated this aspect of God’s character by His various acts of forgiveness.
He forgave the sins of the paralytic whom four men had let down through the roof to Him – When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” (Mark 2:5 NKJV)
He forgave the sins of the notoriously sinful woman who crashed a dinner party where He was, and washed His feet with her tears – Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48 NKJV)
He forgave the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery – When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote that His forgiveness was all encompassing – He forgives ALL our sins – And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13NKJV) ALL trespasses. What does “all” mean? “All means all, and that’s all all means.”
John wrote that He forgives all who confess – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NKJV)
Now, as we think about these truths… about what the Bible says of God and his forgiveness, let’s go back and remind ourselves of our primary verse – And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV). I cannot help but reflect, “Am I forgiving like that**… do I forgive others **like God forgave me in Christ?”
– God’s forgiveness is continual… never ending. Is mine?
– His forgiveness extends to every kind of sin, big ones… little ones… public ones… private ones… every kind. Is my forgiveness of others so all encompassing?
– God’s forgiveness is not based on any merit in the one forgiven, but rather based on who and what He is. Forgiving defines Him. Would anybody say that about me… that I am forgiving… that forgiveness actually defines me?
– God’s forgiveness is extended to all who seek it. Does mine? Do I forgive any who wrong me? All who wrong me?
God’s forgiveness is never ending, all encompassing, an act of grace, and available to all who seek it. Praise the Lord.
Why, then, does the Bible speak of limits to God’s forgiveness?
The Lord’s Prayer (I think more accurately called the Disciples’ Prayer), is given in both Matthew 6 and in Luke 11. Both are similar, but Matthew’s version reads:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 KJV) Matthew’s version differs from Luke’s in that Matthew included that last phrase, while Luke did not. Matthew added something else, though, in next two verses – For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV).
Interesting. Was Jesus saying that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us? It sure reads like that’s what He was saying. And that certainly sounds like a limit on His forgiveness toward us.
The same thought appears in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant, which you can read in Matthew 18:23-35, and which ends with, And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses (Matthew 18:34-35 NKJV).
Two more times Jesus seems to have made this connection between our forgiveness and our forgiving of others – And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25 NKJV). Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37 NKJV).
So what are we to make of this?
First, we need to be absolutely clear that a Christian’s sins, past, present and future, were all forgiven once and for all by what Christ did on the cross. We would have to toss out half our Bibles if that were not so, including such wonderful verses as these:
“Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17 NKJV)
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12 NKJV)
You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back. (Isaiah 38:17 NKJV)
No, we must be clear on this – when a person is saved, they are saved forever. No stumble can erase that… no falling into sin can cause you to fall away from God and be lost. Once you are saved you are always and ever saved. Jesus said, My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10:27-29 NKJV).
So in that sense, your sins ARE forgiven, forever and forever and forever. Billy Graham said it well, “God’s forgiveness is not just a casual statement; it is the complete blotting out of all dirt and degradation of our past, present, and future.”
But secondly, we also need to be clear that we didn’t stop sinning when we got saved. Every Christian has two natures – the old man and the new man… the carnal nature and the spiritual nature. Paul said, I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:16-17NKJV).
From the moment you trust Christ, until the day you see Christ in glory, you will experience conflict between these two natures. And from the moment you trust Christ until the day you see Him in Heaven, you will continue to struggle with sin, and you will continue to sin. Hopefully that struggle grows less and less as you grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), but it will be there. You will struggle with sin in your life until you get to heaven.
Here’s how one preacher put it, “when you got saved, nothing happened to your body.” Indeed, the sensual struggles… the addictions… the besetting sins that were present before you got saved, probably remain problems after you got saved, and you continue to be tempted by them, and to wrestle with them.
So, on the one hand we are forgiven forever by Christ’s shed blood on our behalf on Calvary, but on the other hand we need continual forgiveness of our daily sins to stay in close fellowship with God and enjoy our salvation.
Boice explained this well, “We need to get one great principle straight. When a sinful human being becomes a Christian he does not cease to be a sinner any more than he ceases to be a human being. Oh, he has a new nature planted within him by God. The new nature does not sin. The new nature will constantly lead him along the paths of holiness if he will yield to it. But the Christian also has a sinful, fallen nature that he will never eradicate in this life. This old nature will get him into trouble again and again, and every time it breaks out he will find that it also breaks the fullness of his fellowship with God. What is the Christian to do in these circumstances? The Bible teaches that he is to return to the Lord again and again to confess his sin and to ask for forgiveness and cleansing. If he neglects to do this, he will lose all the joy of salvation. If he asks for forgiveness, he will enter increasingly into the joy of a deepening fellowship with God.”^[James Montgomery Boice, *The Sermon on the Mount: An Expositional Commentary* (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 196–197.]
Jesus illustrated this concept in the upper room when He washed the disciples feet. Peter objected to it, and protested. Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:8-10 NKJV).
The Christian is clean… washed clean by the blood of Jesus. But the Christian gets dirty feet walking through this life, and needs to daily… maybe even hourly… continually… seek cleansing of the dirt that accumulates. We need our feet washed. We need to seek forgiveness of our daily sins, not so that we will be saved. We are already saved! But we need to seek forgiveness because when we sin, our fellowship with God is marred and broken and the joy of our salvation goes absent. Let me quote Billy Graham once more, “Repent when you fail, and immediately seek God’s forgiveness and restoration. Sin breaks our fellowship with God.”
That’s why David, in Psalm 51, his great prayer of repentance after his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah, prayed, restore unto me the joy of my salvation. This saved man sought forgiveness not because he was lost and needed to be saved, but rather because his relationship with God was damaged, and he needed it restored… his joy was gone, and he wanted it back.
So… all that to say… these 3 or 4 places where it seems our forgiveness is contingent on our forgiving others… ALL have to do with this second aspect of forgiveness. Think about all those passages again – they all were referring to believers. And what they are saying to us then is this, if we want to seek forgiveness of our daily sins… if we want the dust from our feet to be washed off… if we want to see complete fellowship with God restored… if we want to once again experience the joy of our salvation, then we need to forgive others.
It’s really pretty simple – we can’t come to God asking for forgiveness of our sins, while harboring the sin of unforgiveness. He points His finger at that and says, “There is a matter that needs to be resolved, before our fellowship can be restored, and before the joy of your salvation can be restored. In addition to the sin you ARE confessing you need to ALSO deal with the sin of unforgiveness.”
Properly understood, these passages that at first glance seem to speak of a limit to God’s forgiveness, in actuality teach the universality of our forgiveness toward others. They remind us that forgiveness is inseparable from Christianity… that if we are forgiven, we will be forgiving. Not because others deserve it from us, but because it is who we are – we are Christians, and Christians forgive, or they suffer loss of joy as a result.
“A man named John Oglethorpe, in talking to John Wesley, once made the comment, ‘I never forgive.’ Mr. Wesley wisely replied, ‘Then, Sir, I hope that you never sin.'”^[Michael P. Green, ed., “1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching”, p. 152.]
What, then, are the limits of our forgiveness of others?
Is it ever right to not forgive? No, I don’t think it is.
What if they are unrepentant? Or what if they repent over and over and keep on doing me wrong?
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4 NKJV) That passage seems to leave room for NOT forgiving if the person is unrepentant, doesn’t it? But other passages, such as Mark 11:25-26 don’t contain such a contingency, seeming to imply that forgiveness is without exception, and not based on their repentance. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him… (Mark 11:25 NKJV).
What if I’ve forgiven them seemingly a thousand times, and they keep on hurting me?Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV) Jesus was using a huge number to indicate huge forgiveness. We are to forgive not just once, or twice, or even seven times, but over and over and over… forever.
I’ve read the Bible through quite a few times now. I can’t find a verse that allows me to be unforgiving of somebody else. In studying for this message I looked through multiple resources trying to find a loophole… an exception… a “get out of jail free” card that would allow me to harbor unforgiveness toward another. I mean there must be something that is unforgivable, and which I don’t need to forgive, right?
But I can’t find it. There is no limit on the forgiveness we are to show toward others. Just as there was no limit to the forgiveness God showed us in Christ. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV).
How much did Christ forgive you? What sins in You did He turn away from and say He would not forgive? NONE! And that’s the level of forgiveness we are to show others.
I’m always intrigued by the story of Gracia Burnham. She and her husband were serving God as missionaries to the Philippines when they were captured and imprisoned by terrorists. These terrorists tortured the couple for a year, at the end of which Gracia’s husband Martin was killed. Gracia wrote a book about the experience, entitled “In the Presence of My Enemies.” The most amazing aspect of her testimony is forgiveness. She forgave those who tortured her… she forgave those who killed her husband… she even went back some time after and tried to find the very terrorists who had imprisoned her. And she found some, and led some to Christ. Amazing.
Billy Graham said, “Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful words in the human vocabulary. How much pain and unhappy consequences could be avoided if we all learned the meaning of this word!”^[Billy Graham, as quoted by Franklin Graham, in “Billy Graham in Quotes”]
Albert Einstein said, “Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.”
Two questions must be considered in light of all this:
- Are you forgiven?
- Are you forgiving?
Are you forgiven? If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, then you can joyously answer “yes” to that question. But if you haven’t, then your sin remains hanging about your neck like Marley’s chains in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” And just as Marley warned Scrooge, those chains grow longer and heavier with each passing day. “It is a ponderous chain.” But you can be rid of it… you can be forgiven… today! Will you not trust Christ today? Will you not step out as we sing in a minute and give your sins to Jesus. He will forgive every single one of them, forever.
Are you forgiving?
– Wives, are you forgiving of your husbands?
– Husbands, are you forgiving of your wives?
– Kids, are you forgiving of your parents?
– Parents, are you forgiving of your kids?
– Are you forgiving even of those who wrong you more than once… maybe even many times? Martin Luther King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Is that you?
– And when you forgive, do you also forget?
“A man who was telling his friend about an argument he’d had with his wife commented, ‘Oh, how I hate it, every time we have an argument, she gets historical.’ The friend replied, ‘You mean hysterical.’ ‘No,’ he insisted. ‘I mean historical. Every time we argue she drags up everything from the past and holds it against me.””^[Michael P. Green, ed., “1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching”, p. 153.]
That’s not Biblical forgiveness.
“A friend of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, once reminded her of an especially cruel thing that had been done to her years before. But Miss Barton seemed not to recall it. ‘Don’t you remember it?’ her friend asked. ‘No,’ came the reply, ‘I distinctly remember forgetting it.'”^[Michael P. Green, ed., “1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching”, p. 153.]
That’s Biblical forgiveness… forgive and forget. Not because they deserve it, but simply as an act of our will… as an act of grace… because we hae experienced the very same thing in Christ. Is that how you forgive?
– Is there somebody that the Holy Spirit is reminding you of right now that you have not forgiven?
Oh, my brothers and sisters, some of us may need, this morning, to kneel here at the front as we sing and confess our unforgiving hearts. “I can’t forgive, Pastor… I just can’t!” “You don’t understand, Pastor… it’s just too much and I can’t forgive!” Such thoughts are sin, and such thoughts are the reason you have no joy in your faith. Step out as we sing… kneel here and ask God to forgive your unforgiveness, and help you forgive. Get your joy back again.